Carnivorous vulture bees have evolved a special tooth and gut bacteria to eat meat

To better understand this extreme change in diet, scientists at the University of California-Riverside, Columbia University, and Cornell University studied the gut bacteria or microbiome of the species known called vulture bees in Costa Rica. The researchers found that the intestines of bees are rich in acidophilic bacteria similar to those found in vultures, hyenas and other scavengers.

Of them research was published Tuesday in the journal mBio, published by the American Society for Microbiology

Only three species of bees in the world – all vulture bees – have evolved to get their protein purely from dead meat, and they live exclusively in tropical rainforests. However, there are other species of bees that will consume fresh animal carcasses when available and also feed on pollen and nectar, according to the study.

The guts of honey bees, bumblebees and stingless bees are colonized by the same five core bacteria, and they have retained these bacteria for about 80 million years, the study notes. The researchers wanted to find out how the guts of vulture bees differ.

The scientists set up 16 bait stations with 50 grams (1.8 ounces) of raw chicken dangling from branches about 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) above the ground. To deter ants, they coated the rope with kerosene. They collected a total of 159 bees, including, for comparison, bees that eat pollen and meat and vegetarian bees that eat only pollen and nectar.

After studying the bees’ microbiomes by extracting DNA from their bodies, the researchers discovered that the vulture bees had lost some of the core bacteria most bees have. and develop a more acidic gut.

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“The vulture bee’s microbiome is enriched with acidophilic bacteria, which are new bacteria that their relatives do not have” Quinn McFrederick, an assistant professor and bee specialist at UC Riverside and the study’s author.

“These bacteria are similar to those found in actual vultures, as well as hyenas and other carnivores, perhaps helping to protect them from pathogens present on carcasses.”

He added that bees that eat both pollen and flesh have different types of bacteria when compared with strict pollen feeders or strict cadaver feeders. This suggests that they either harbor more diverse microorganisms in response to their varied diets, or that they are exposed to more bacteria when visiting both flowers and carcasses.

Follow a news statement. They have also been found to harbor the bacteria Carnobacterium, which is involved in the digestion of meat.

Although they are carnivorous, the researchers say that the honey of the vulture bees is still sweet and edible.

“They store the meat in special compartments (in the hive) that are sealed for two weeks before they have access to it, and these compartments are separate from where they are,” said Jessica Maccaro, a doctoral student at UC Riverside. honey storage. participated in the study, in the statement.


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